Idaho Transportation

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Family of plane crash survivor relays details

By Andrea Heisinger
Lewiston Morning Tribune

LEWISTON – In the late afternoon Monday, Paul Herr crashed his plane nose first in the dense forest east of Kooskia, climbed from the wreckage and walked a half-mile to drink cold water flowing in a stream.

Then, as he told his wife Chris, he reached exhaustion and looked for a place as shelter against the night.

The wait to be found had begun -- a wait that lasted until Wednesday afternoon.

And, as his wife and son happily relayed at a press conference Thursday afternoon at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Herr lived to tell about his nearly two days in the forest, a little beat up, but in good spirits.

"He never doubted he would be found," his wife said.

"He said he could have survived another day at least."

Herr, 54, was flying from Iowa to Pasco, Wash., in his 40-year-old Piper Monday when the single-engine plane began experiencing engine failure at about 4 p.m.

After he was instructed by radio to attempt a landing at an airstrip near Kooskia, the plane disappeared from radar, said a press release from the Idaho Department of Transportation.
Herr doesn't remember much about the crash, his wife said Thursday. He sustained various injuries, including a broken jaw, fractured lower back and bruises and scratches all over his body.

He had some nuts in the plane, but wouldn't have been able to eat them because of his jaw, his son, Paul Herr Jr., said.

His wife smiled as she recounted that her husband has kept his sense of humor, saying having his jaw wired shut has put him on a "crash diet."

Herr, a swimming pool contractor in Pasco, owned the plane he was flying, and had flown the path between Pasco and Iowa, where he has family, many times. His son said he has thousands of hours of flight experience, and has been a pilot for six years.

The engine that failed him was only a couple of years old, and Herr and his son had worked on the plane numerous times. In other words, the plane was in excellent condition despite its age, his wife and son said.

The trip to Iowa this time was for a son-in-law's graduation from seminary. His wife opted to take a commercial flight there and back rather than fly with him.

She arrived home ahead of him, about 10:30 Monday night, and thought it strange he wasn't home soon after.

"Seattle search and rescue called me asking where he was, and then it dawned on me, if it was search and rescue there might be something I needed to know," she said, but the caller wouldn't give her any information.

Soon, the person called back and said, yes, her husband's plane was missing.

"The waiting was very hard," she said, "but I still had to hope until I heard differently.
"I am a believer in God, and I said 'You know where he's at, he's in your hands.' "

She and Paul's six children and 13 grandchildren prayed together for the two days, through an inclement weather delay that kept rescue crews in Idaho County grounded Tuesday.
Then a helicopter pilot and Civil Air Patrol team spotted Herr's plane at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 45 miles east of Kooskia.

They found him asleep away from the plane, his wife said, although he doesn't remember them finding him.

When the family was notified he'd been found alive, "I think us and just about everyone we know was just about dancing," Paul Jr. said.

Herr was taken by the North Idaho Back Country Medical Rescue Team to St. Joe's, where he's listed in fair condition.

Paul Jr. attributes his father's survival partially to his hunting experience, and his familiarity with the area he crashed in.

"He'd been in Idaho several times, and followed maps closely," Paul Jr. said.

"When he realized what happened, he pretty much knew where he was at."

His wife credits his survival with his optimism and strong personality.

At the end of the press conference, as Paul Jr. thanked the rescue crews and Idaho County Sheriff's Department for finding his father, and "putting up with our phone calls," he was overcome with emotion and wiped tears away.

The road to recovery is still ahead of Herr.

He will be in the Lewiston hospital at least until Saturday or Sunday, said Patti Haywood, director of nursing services.

After that he will go back to Pasco to heal.

Paula Hornbeck, director of emergency services, said when he was brought in to the emergency room Wednesday, he "looked quite fine considering his injuries and exposure."

After spending hours in the wet wilderness with only the crumpled form of his plane for company, would Herr dare take to the skies again?

"Oh, this hasn't scared him from flying," his wife said. "He's made that pretty clear."

Photo courtesy of the Lewiston Morning Tribune